Best in the West: Randy Bennett’s Gaels quietly delivering strongest season yet

MORAGA Tucked into the far corner of McKeon Pavilion, the home of the Saint Mary’s Gaels, sits the office of head coach Randy Bennett. On the wall adjacent to his sprawling desk — encased in glass — hang two of crowning achievements from his era.

Closest to the coach’s desk is the black, signed Spurs jersey of Patty Mills. Next to it is the wine Cavs uniform of Matthew Dellavedova.

The pair of Australians are Bennett’s duo of NBA champs — two shining examples of the coach’s tenure, which has seen the program rise from a Moraga mid-major to a perennial power.

Now in his 17th season in the East Bay, Bennett has built a Saint Mary’s team that — in terms of wins and losses — is as formidable as it’s ever been. The Gaels have already won 20 games for the 11th year in a row and 12th time overall under Bennett’s watch.

Heading into Saturday night’s road meeting with the University of San Diego, the Gaels were riding a school-record 17-game win streak.

The veteran coach, who inked a 10-year contract extension in November, is as no nonsense as it gets. So, it figures that Bennett isn’t basking in the glory of the current run.

“No. Not really,” Bennett said with a laugh when asked if he’s stopped to enjoy the streak.

“The reason we haven’t lost is because we’ve stayed focused on the task at hand,” Bennett added. “And that’s the only way I think you can do it.”

Clichéd or not, Bennett’s style is impervious to criticism. His recent coaching résumé is downright Steve Kerr-ish. Over the past three seasons, the Gaels are 80-13. This year’s team is within striking distance of securing the program’s first 30-win season.

Jock Landale is one of the best college basketball players on the West Coast, but his NBA future is uncertain. (Courtesy Tod Fierner/ Saint Mary’s Athletics)

On the floor, a selfless star, Jock Landale is at the heart of the success. Averaging 22.3 points and 10.5 rebounds per game, Landale is just as happy with dropping a double double as he is to draw double teams, leaving wide-open shots for his teammates.

“He’s a pretty unselfish player for a guy who scores as many as he does,” Bennett said. “He doesn’t really get hung up on how many he scores, which is hard to get them that way. He’s good that.”

The senior center is one of six Australians on a team famed for its Aussie connection.

“Obviously, I’m always going to look to score because that’s kind of what I like to do — that’s what everyone likes to do,” Landale said.

But that’s not the only thing Landale’s looking to accomplish.

“Every night I’ll try to go out there and do my thing and it just depends on what that is on a particular night,” Landale explained.

What comes next for the Gaels big man remains uncertain after his time in Moraga is up. According to one NBA scout, Landale is no first-round talent.

Listed at 6-foot-11, Landale has worrying holes in his game. He doesn’t shoot 3-pointers (he’s attempted four all season) and can only guard centers.

“He’s not overly athletic but he’s efficient,” the scout explained. “And I just don’t know if that necessarily translates to the NBA right now because the athleticism and the multi-position defensive responsibilities [that players have].”

Landale has flashed enough upside that some team will extend him a Summer League invite, but after that, it could be back to Australia or possibly a stint in the NBA’s G-League.

Those decisions will be made in due time. For now, Landale is the leading figure in the Gaels’ big three. The scout calls Landale St. Mary’s Kevin Durant. Senior point guard Emmett Naar is Stephen Curry. Naar, who also hails from Australian is the facilitator in chief, second only to Trae Young — the Baby Steph — for assists per game (9.1) in the nation.

Then there’s the other Splash Brother, Calvin Hermanson, who’s firing at a clip of 46 percent from beyond the arc.

“Hermanson to me is a little bit like Klay because if he has a good game [and] those guys do what they’re supposed to do, they’re almost impossible to beat.”

The Golden State comparison, as the scout himself admits, is far-fetched and fun. It’s the kind of parallel that Bennett, who claimed to have been unaware of the streak, would never entertain.

Bennet said that for a couple of months now, he’s been talking to his team about shutting out the noise.

“There are distractions that come with it. They’re going to exist,” Bennett said. “You can’t run from them. There’s going to be hype. There’s going to be rankings. There’s going to be attention to strengths, all that.”

All he wants is for his team to focus on competing each night. As the streak shows, the team has bought in.

“That’s all part of trying to be good,” Bennett said. “And trying to win a league championship.

“Those are goals that we’re trying to do. We’re trying to see how good we can be and part of that is — a byproduct of that would be to win the league.”

Sitting behind his desk, after a recent 79-43 throttling of USF, Bennett is eager to get back to business.

“We’ve got a lot of work to do to do it,” Bennett said with a laugh.

kbuscheck@sfexaminer.com

Karl Buscheck

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